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A Hanukkah Message From the Rabbi

December 8, 2023

Dear Friends, 

As you know, Hanukkah is a holiday that recollects a war in which the Maccabees fought against assimilation, then restored the Temple to the worship of the One universal God. The Talmud recollects the miracle of the singular flask of pure oil that provided and sustained light in the Temple for a full week longer than it should have. Perhaps these extra days of light symbolize the energy needed to recover from the aftermath of war. 

One thing about light is that it not only pushes away darkness but also reveals where the shadows are. Shadows, of course, are caused by obstructions to light. At Hanukkah, the menorah publicizes the miracle of light at the darkest time of year, but perhaps we can also reflect on the shadows we might now see around us.  

Many of us witness a kind of madness in the world we didn’t expect to see. Since the horrors of October 7, unimaginable anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel have erupted the world over. Jews find themselves isolated, harassed, and attacked as Israel responds to the atrocities of Hamas. At the same time, we also witness a unity and sense of global community among Jews and our allies that we haven’t seen in decades—if ever.  

Hanukkah is a holiday that calls us to bring light into the darkness. The aftermath of this present war will take a long time to process, but perhaps the light of Jewish unity can help us see the obstructions—the issues and challenges we must address in the months and years ahead.  

Judaism calls us to bring light to this world. For some, this is done in acts of service, in leadership, and in commitment to the values of justice and protecting human rights and dignity. For others, it is in educating, dialogue, and celebrating the varieties of human culture and experience. For some, it is the daily effort and intention of being a good American, a good neighbor, a better human.  

As the Yiddish saying goes, Sh’ver zol zein a yid/It is difficult being a Jew. It is difficult confronting shadow, be it in others or in ourselves. But this is how our tradition has helped touch and inspire thousands of years of civilization: We struggle to keep the lights on even when it feels like we’re low on fuel, even when we need to be replenished. The more we come together, the more energy we have to meet the challenge of sharing light and dealing with what it reveals. For this reason, I look forward to seeing you at our community Hanukkah celebrations this weekend. 

As we kindle our lights, let us take a moment to breathe a blessing of gratitude for the warmth of friendship and community we share together at Mishkon and elsewhere. Let us sing a prayer of hope and protection for Israel, the Jewish people, and the Palestinians caught in the crossfire. And may our collective light bring healing, hope, and illumination to the world around us and within. Together, we will get there. 
--Rabbi Katzan 


Fri, April 12 2024 4 Nisan 5784